Help for passengers as Rail Ombudsman begins operation
A new Rail Ombudsman began operating on November 26, in a bid to improve passenger complaints resolution.
The company Dispute Resolution Ombudsman will provide the service. All train operating companies franchised by the Department for Transport are part of the ombudsman, which excludes (at present) rail operators franchised by local authorities such as TfL Rail and Nexus.
The ombudsman received its Alternative Dispute Resolution certification from the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) on launch day.
Passengers can use the free service if they are unhappy with the final response to a complaint from a train operator, or if their complaint has not been resolved within 40 days of receipt. The Rail Ombudsman will review appeals and attempt to resolve them by mediation or by issuing a formal binding ruling if no agreement between the customer and the train operator can be reached.
CTSI Alternative Dispute Resolution project leader Andy Allen said: “If a traveller does have a valid complaint and feels that the rail company concerned isn’t resolving it to their satisfaction, there is now another avenue for the consumer to go down. The fact that all members of the Rail Ombudsman have signed up to use this ADR service is great news for train travellers.
“It is generally accepted that consumers are more willing to use Alternative Dispute Resolution processes than to use the court process. It is also accepted that these ADR processes are much better at maintaining, or recovering, a positive relationship between the consumer and trader.”
Rail Minister Andrew Jones added: “This is a significant step forward for passengers’ rights. This independent ombudsman will make sure passengers are heard, and that they get a fair deal when train companies fall short.”
Transport Focus Chief Executive Anthony Smith welcomed the launch of the ombudsman, saying: “At last rail passengers will join other consumers in having access to free, independent, binding dispute resolution.
“We expect the ability of the Rail Ombudsman to impose binding decisions to resolve complaints. And the fact it can charge train companies fees for doing this will drive improvements to the way most train operators handle passenger complaints.
“We will track the work and effectiveness of the new scheme very closely, to make sure the Rail Ombudsman delivers measurable benefits for passengers.”
The ombudsman’s introduction comes as consumer group Which? criticised the way train operators handle complaints.
It says it studied a year’s worth of data from the Office of Rail and Road, and found that fewer than half of passengers were satisfied with how their complaints were handled.
In addition, Which? claims that fewer than one in five passengers on Northern, Govia Thameslink Railway and Great Western Railway said they were satisfied with the outcome or handling (or both) of their complaint.
Northern was last or in the bottom three of the 18 train companies in every aspect of the complaints process that passengers were asked about.
CrossCountry or Chiltern Railways scored highest in most categories, but Which? said satisfaction levels were still frequently at 50% or below among the best performers.
In a separate move, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is launching a market review into the role played by companies involved with Delay Repay claims compensation.
The review will consider: whether such companies face barriers to entering and expanding in the market; the impact on train operators and how compensation companies should interact with them; how they operate and earn money, and whether consumers and businesses would benefit from greater transparency over pricing; and the extent to which such companies can drive innovation and the introduction of new technologies.
The The ORR says in 201617, passengers lost more than 3.6 million hours from seven million journeys that were delayed by 30 minutes or more, and that around 35% of eligible passengers claimed a total of £81 million in compensation.